Operation Pripyetsee

Pripyet marshes

'Pripyetsee' was a German operation to kill all Jews in nine areas of Belorussia and three areas of Ukraine in the region of the Pripyet marshes and Pripyet river in the German-occupied western USSR (19 July/29 or 31 August 1941).

The undertaking is considered to be the Nazis' first planned attempt at a mass extermination, for during the operation some 13,788 people were killed, and among the villages completely destroyed by fire were Dvarets, Khochan', Azyarany, Starazhowtsy and Kremna, with Turaw. Other villages were partially destroyed. The victims were first rounded up and then shot to death or, in some instance, herded into the nearby swamp and/or river to drown.

The operation was conceived by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, and implemented by SS-Standartenführer Hermann Fegelein’s SS Kavalleriebrigade and also elements of Generalleutnant Hermann Franke’s 162nd Division and Generalleutnant von Boehm-Benzing’s 252nd Division, all under the command of SS-Brigadeführer und Generalmajor der Waffen-SS Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski. The operation was undertaken in two stages, with the second starting on 14 August.

On the operation’s first day the 1st Kavallerieregiment and 2nd SS Kavallerieregiment were placed under von dem Bach-Zelewski’s command with effect from 21 July and transferred to Baranovichi to 'systematically comb out the Pripyet marshes'. Himmler also ordered von dem Bach-Zelewski to provide him with a properly conceived plan for the extermination operation. Himmler’s special order of 28 July demanded that von dem Bach-Zelewski eliminate all elements of the population of the Pripyet marshes 'with an anti-German attitude' by the shooting of the men, deportation of the women and children, the confiscation of livestock and food, and the burning of habitations. On the other hand, any elements of the population 'showing a pro-German attitude' was to be spared and even to be armed to a limited degree.

The 1st Kavallerieregiment moved from Baranovichi toward Lyakhavichi, Hantsavichi, Baranovichi, Ivatsevichi, Byaroza and Pruzhany to comb the area to the south, south-east and south-west as far as the Pripyet river. The 2nd Kavallerieregiment moved from Lutsk in the direction of Kamen'-Kashirski, Drahichyn, Ivanava, Sarny, Luninyets and Pinsk, to comb the area to the south and north of the Pripyet river, until making contact with the 1st Kavallerieregiment.

In an undertaking co-ordinated with that of the 2nd Kavallerieregiment, the Einsatzgruppe 'B' conducted an mass extermination of the Jewish population in Pinsk. Elements of the 1st and 2nd Kavallerieregimenter were used to block the route of some of the Soviet forces which broke out of a pocket along the road linking Slutsk and Babruysk road on 27 July.

In the second stage of the operation, units of the SS Kavalleriebrigade moved from a start line along the railway linking Baranovichi and Luninyets to the east, conducting the 'cleansing' of both banks of the Pripyet river but remaining to the south of the road linking Brest Litovsk, Slutsk and Babruysk. In the course of this stage the 2nd Kavallerieregiment encountered and fought one or two battalions of Soviet regular and partisan forces on 21 August near Turaw. The Germans suffered 23 of dead and wounded, while by German estimates the Soviet losses were 600 to 700 dead, and 10 taken prisoner. In the course of following days the 1st Kavallerieregiment combed the region of Starobin, Lyuban and Ptsich, and the 2nd Kavallerieregiment advanced to the east of the line between Kol’na and Lyakhavichi (Knyaz'-Vozyera) toward the Ptsich river.